Search Term Friday: Calvin and Hobbes Let's Go Exploring

Having just finished a whole year of "Fridays with Benedict," blogging through each Friday The Rule of St. Benedict, I thought I'd try a different sort of series on Fridays.

I've be writing here almost every weekday since 2006. That's a lot of posts, a lot of words and a lot of diverse and often quirky topics. Consequently, all sorts of search terms bring people to the blog. So I thought I'd use each Friday to highlight a search term that brought someone the the blog and the post they discovered. My hope is that this will introduce new readers to posts from the archives and long time readers to posts they might have forgotten. I also hope to make you smile by picking a strange search term now and then.

For my part, I'm also curious to revisit old posts to see how well they have held up over the years. I've changed over the last seven years and the blog has as well. It'll be interesting to ponder some of those changes on Fridays.

And so, for our first installment of "Search Term Friday," the following search term brought someone to the blog this week:

calvin and hobbes let's go exploring

That search, as most of you know, linked to the final post from my series The Theology of Calvin and Hobbes. Specifically, the last post in the series where I discuss the final cartoon of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip (click to enlarge):

In the final post of that series I tried to use the last Calvin and Hobbes strip to make a contrast, borrowing from theologian John Hick, between an Augustinian and an Irenaean theodicy. Here is Hick making the contrast:
There is thus to be found in Irenaeus the outline of an approach to the problem of evil which stands in important respects in contrast to the Augustinian type of theodicy. Instead of the doctrine that man was created finitely perfect and then incomprehensibly destroyed his own perfection and plunged into sin and misery, Irenaeus suggests that man was created as an imperfect, immature creature who was to undergo moral development and growth and finally be brought to the perfection intended for him by his Maker. Instead of the fall of Adam being presented, as in the Augustinian tradition, as an utterly malignant and catastrophic event, completely disrupting God's plan, Irenaeus pictures it as something that occurred in the childhood of the race, an understandable lapse due to weakness and immaturity rather than an adult crime full of malice and pregnant with perpetual guilt. And instead of the Augustinian view of life's trials as a divine punishment for Adam's sin, Irenaeus sees our world of mingled good and evil as a divinely appointed environment for man's development towards the perfection that represents the fulfillment of God's good purpose.
In the Theology of Calvin and Hobbes series, given the namesakes of the lead characters, the theological frame had been Augustinian in tone, a meditation on human depravity. And the personality of Calvin gave us ample material for those reflections! But at the end of the series I try to reframe all that in light of the hopeful, open-endedness of the final strip, an attempt to recast the theological vision of Calvin and Hobbes as more Irenaean than Augustinian. Calvin isn't wicked. He's a child. The judgmental Augustinian gloom of Calvinism abates--a finger wagging at total depravity-- and a sympathetic identification takes its place:
So here at the end of this journey, contemplating the final sled ride of Calvin and Hobbes, I cannot help but wonder if we've got it all wrong. The world of Calvin and Hobbes isn't Augustinian at all. It's Irenaean. Specifically, as Hick notes, what we see in Calvin and Hobbes isn't the malice of a depraved adulthood but the stumbling about of childhood immaturity. The view of human nature is dim in Calvin and Hobbes, but dim in a way that suggests movement into God's Future. In short, the final open-ended sled ride of Calvin and Hobbes completely recasts all we've witnessed in the strip. It was a mistake to find Augustinian gloom in Calvin and Hobbes. And we always knew that. There is just too much joy and hope to be found in Calvin and Hobbes. And so here, at the end, we find the key:

The answers await us. God is in our future. Not our past. So don't look back.

Friends, it's a magical world.

Let's go exploring.

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8 thoughts on “Search Term Friday: Calvin and Hobbes Let's Go Exploring”

  1. A big starting question for me is whether god is about the business of reality, or about some system that's merely some kind of overlay- something more ideological and easier to hold, but never of the same scale as reality itself.

    I would offer that we in the 21st century have a means to understand the Christ Event in ways that our 1st century cohorts could never. Mainly because of science.

    Despite all the "change" since then, the one thing in reality we experience in the exact same way as the poets of Genesis or Plato, is that we live in the "gap" between" what is" and "what can be". We all from this gap can imagine the ideal. Seeing what the ancients could see, a coherent view of the world is to see it as a fall. Seeing what we can see now, I think a more coherently real interpretation of this shared gap experience, is that it indicates our "imago dei" and that we are living in a world born by becoming- not as something perfect and then falling.

    What I'm seeing as a theological thinker is that god creates a creation that is every bit involved in its becoming as god is-- after the fact of god announcing "Let There Be...". Yes we are absolutely contingent. The style of that contingency though, is better modeled by Jesus than by a Caesar: contingency through Jesus leads to our becoming more human; by Caesar, it leads to fulfilling the Emperor's whim.

    Put another way, when we see god to we see someone like a Caesar in the sky, or more like Jesus on the earth?

    One question I'm exploring is "what is our responsibility to our 21st century "perch" on the Christ Event? Do we merely keep it a system or do we let it into reality, and reality into it?

  2. Your mention of science hinted at a question that ran through my mind while reading the post. Doesn't Irenaus' perspective fit better with an evolutionary perspective?

  3. Moves me. The combination of that orange tiger on white snow that zaps me back to my adolesence reading these books, together with the honest and brilliant flow of that final strip. The capturing of innocence and hopefulness is truly powerful. I just read a load of Kierkegaard and his own battle with the concept of original sin, and found myself in that same battle. How can we be held to account for sin that we were born into under Augustine's thought, or sin that was built into us as imperfect creatures under Irenaeus thought? In either case, I understand personal responsibility as adults, but more to Hicks' point, I believe it is really a mingling of good and evil that were divinely appointed to mature and grow man. The question isn't about guilt or blame, but about experience and growth. Thanks Dr. Beck.

  4. Yeah Silvana, I think it does. Yet though, I don't think our "evolution" as a church or as a civilization is as linear as the maturing of a child into an adult. There's something circular about it; we keep going over the same terrain.

    What are some of your thoughts?

  5. Mike, please forgive me for butting in, but maybe the "circular" of which you speak is the small set back, stall or confused sense of direction that takes place here and there through out the long period of time that evolution is. I have never looked at evolution as a simple straight line, but a growth that is dotted with zigzags, dips, spirals and occasional retreats. In our short span of life, these sometimes appear as the entire picture.

  6. I never really thought of Calvin and Hobbes as being anything like Augustinian. I always saw it as an explosion of creativity and sheer joy of childhood. Maybe that's because I first read it as a child and could relate...

    Although I feel like it's a bit too simplistic to characterize Augustinianism (and by association Calvinism) with gloom. Regardless of my theological differences with both systems and their theodicies, I guess that characterization just struck me as a bit unfair. I get your point with the names "Calvin" and "Hobbes" etc. I mean, when I read the Confessions, I do see a real sadness and pathos to Augustine when he describes his former life. But, to be honest, the Confessions always struck me as brimming over with joy. Ironic, considering that they are "confessions!" Maybe that's just me though... Or consider "City of God" where he writes about people who are able to so "subtly control their bowels as to produce the most wonderful music" A theology of farting? ;)

    I agree that Augustinian theodicy has often led to the "gloom" you speak of. But I guess, given the greater scope of the Augustinian theological system, I think it's more complex than just "gloom." So I guess I just kind of feel ambivalent. I suppose you could say that Augustine didn't let his pessimism get in the way of his joy (as to John Calvin, I can't say for sure.) Or maybe it's just a contrarian impulse in me because it seems like poor Augustine has become a modern theological whipping boy, where we can lay all the faults of Western Christianity at his feet.

  7. Do not confuse "evolution" with "progression" Evolution is not directed toward an end, it is existential. Evolution sees no future. We humans can progress, because we can imagine a future.
    Anything that has progressed, has been at human instigation. Seeing our physical evolution into modern humans as evolutionary "progress" is mere solipsism, and discounts our future species evolution in the hundreds of thousands of years yet to come.

  8. The same thing happens in the maturation of children. It does not take sensible parents long to realize that their kids probably won't get the lesson the first time every time. And we keep thinking that X date is the end of the stupid mistakes. For a while it was 21 then it was 18 and now we think that the brain might not stop making us do stupid things until 25.

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